Ten Years of Fundamental Change

After 163 posts of over 90,000 words — a 360-page book if published traditionally – we have reached the 10th anniversary of this blog.  So, what has happened?  Here are a few highlights, none of which this blog influenced.

  • On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama won the presidency with 365 electoral votes to 173 received by John McCain. Obama won 52.9% of the popular vote to McCain’s 45.7%.
  • On March 23, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often shortened to the Affordable Care Act or nicknamed Obamacare, a United States federal statute, was enacted by the 111th United States Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.
  • On November 6, 2012, Obama won 332 electoral votes, defeating Mitt Romney. With 51.1% of the popular vote, Obama became the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win the majority of the popular vote twice.
  • On November 9, 2016, Republicans Donald Trump of New York won the 2016 election, defeating Democrat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of New York. Trump won 304 electoral votes compared to Clinton’s 227, though Clinton won a plurality of the popular vote, receiving nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump.

What were the themes over the past ten years?  First and foremost, I addressed the essence of change, how many enterprises pursue change, and why most enterprises fail.  The status quo is too compelling and maintaining it requires all available human and financial resources.

I have pursued this topic in several domains – automobiles, airlines, and academia.  The possibility of driverless cars has driven enormous investments, sweeping prognostications, and modest success. This technology will eventually prevail, but not as fast as various pundits have projected.  My guess is that significant, but far from dominant, market penetration will take a decade.

The airlines have been a favorite target.  The quality of service has become deplorable and the cost of service has become excessive.  The major airlines have systematically degraded service while steadily increasing prices.  They should all be facing extinction were it not for the lack of viable alternatives.  The high-speed train from Atlanta to Washington, DC should take 3 hours, not 13 hours.  With the right public transportation investments, major airlines should be facing bankruptcy.

Academia has also been a frequent target.  Student debt replacing credit card debt as America’s largest liability, beyond mortgages, is a travesty.  Students having to assume decades-long debt payments to compensate for academia’s unwillingness to control costs represent exploitation at its worst.  Institutional failure is fully warranted.

So, all sorts on things are not working well.  How can we move on, hopefully to things working better?  One promising trend is assistive technology, using intelligent systems to augment, not replace, human performance.  Disabled and older adults could greatly benefit from such assistance.  Enhanced mobility would be one benefit.  Assistance with activities of daily life would be another.

100 million people in the US could benefit from assistive technologies.  This underserved market, when served, could generate millions of jobs.  Users of these technologies will inevitably require human assistance, perhaps combining the competencies of those on the Geek Squad or Genius Bar, with abilities to counsel disabled and older adults – a whole new profession.

There are roughly 270 million cars on the road in the US.  Once driverless cars achieve a 5% market penetration, perhaps in ten years, there will be over 10 million vehicles needing daily maintenance, at the very least to calibrate and clean sensors.  These vehicles will make their ways to maintenance facilities, probably during wee hours.  Some maintenance will be automated, but not all.

Odd things will happen.  My son, Will, told me recently about a brand new Subaru that would not start.  They went through all the various maintenance procedures and could find nothing wrong.  Finally they decided to remove all of the owner’s possessions from the car.  It started.  They tested putting each possession back to discover that the problem was the electronic ignition was “talking” to the owner’s gold clubs!

How could the clubs or bag talk?  It turns out that it was an autonomous golf bag designed to follow the owner around the links and provide appropriate clubs as needed.  It is an example of the Internet of Things, with assorted sensors and communications capabilities.  I can imagine an extended period of our discovering various unintended consequences and designing workarounds to compensate for the unexpected.

Various agencies have estimated that millions of highly skilled people will be needed to keep things working and figure out what went wrong when things do not work.  This raises the question of where these people will gain these skills.  Community colleges and employer-based training will play a major role, as not everyone will need a bachelor’s degree.

Of course, this prompts another question.  What jobs will there be for uneducated, unskilled people?  It seems to me that we need creative approaches to transitioning people out of that status.  These approaches, in themselves, may create many new jobs.


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